WIND POINT — Melvin Hargrove is the project manager for Uplift 900, but he’s also a local pastor and on Thursday he, along with county, city and state officials, combined the missions of building faith and creating jobs in an attempt to move the city forward.
Uplift 900 was started as an initiative to lower the county and the City of Racine’s unemployment rate to keep it at the state level with the goal of getting 900 people to sustained employment.
At a conference on Thursday at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, about 30 area pastors and faith leaders from different religions heard the plea from public officials — “we need your help.”
“If we are going to address the economic conditions strangling our community, that also in part lead to the social conditions that are crippling them, then we need all hands on deck,” Hargrove said. “We need the faith community at the table. We need to rebuild trust that has been broken.”
Officials from Racine County, the city, Gateway Technical College and the state were on hand to help inform the faith leaders of programs going on in the community in an attempt to enlist their services to reach those who are in need of employment or greater economic opportunities.
Hargrove said without the faith community in Racine, the community itself cannot move forward toward a better quality of life. He added that the event is the first attempt to “restore that circle of trust.”
“So we can move our community forward in relationship and in partnership together,” Hargrove said. “We have a lot of issues facing us but one of the main issues that’s facing us is the issue of employment and economic opportunities for the people we serve.”
Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said there has been some success and that employment number is now down to about 650, but more work needs to be done.
“The county wants to establish trust with everybody and specifically with our faith-based entities,” Delagrave said. “The county needs you guys more than you need the county. We are only as strong as our faith-based entities.”
Racine Mayor Cory Mason said this is an exciting time for the community and there are many opportunities for change.
“We have to be really intentional about including everybody in that economic opportunity,” Mason said. “We have to have broad economic prosperity for the entire community.”
William Martin, strategic workforce development initiatives director for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, was on hand to show the faith leaders that the state is willing to step in and has stepped up.
“I really think Racine is experiencing a real economic renaissance … but I know for people who have been here, change is slow,” Martin said.
With the Foxconn Technology Group development under way in Mount Pleasant, Martin said “the world is turning its attention to Racine” but Thursday’s event was not about Foxconn.
Martin said from 2017 to 2018 the county’s unemployment rate had the largest drop of any community of its size in the state.
“For the first time in decades, you have the jobs in abundance, it is happening,” Martin said, adding that the state has helped match funds for programs with the city and the county. “We’ve raised, all together between public and private and nonprofit, almost $3 million in that total fund.”
Sewing seeds of prosperity
Martin called Thursday’s event an opportunity to “speak blessings into existence” and give the faith leaders an opportunity to give their input to public officials about programs aimed to help those who are disenfranchised.
“We have sown the seeds,” Martin said. “But it takes the faith community to step up and help tend that crop in order for us to actually have a good harvest.”
Martin invited the pastors to become informed about the different training and job opportunities along with the specific credentials and requirements that are necessary to cash in on those opportunities.
“We need the entire faith community to come together, unceasingly in prayer for all of those who have not yet made it and then do more,” Martin said. “We want to make sure you know (the programs and details) and that your congregation knows you know … invite the community into your congregation.”
Training in the church
The pastors in attendance Thursday were receptive of getting involved and passing information along to their individual flocks.
Bishop Lawrence Kirby, pastor at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, suggested the churches host some of the training programs for those who are unable to get to Gateway or some other location.
“Our churches are one of the most unused resource that we have … at our church we have 1,500 square feet right now, some of which can be used for training,” Kirby said. “The reality is many of our people aren’t going to come to Workforce Development, they’re not going to come to Gateway, that’s why you have vacancies in those training programs.”
Kirby said many churches have volunteers who would be willing to help with educating some of their fellow parishioners.
“I don’t always have the time to take (those asking for help) by the hand and take them to the place,” Kirby said. “But I can say ‘OK, show up here Tuesday night, I have somebody here to help you.’ I think that would go a long way to fill the gap.”
“I really think Racine is experiencing a real economic renaissance … but I know for people who have been here, change is slow.” William Martin, of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development